Pages Seethe with Misfired Bullets and Opium
“Eleanor Catton didn’t set out to write an enormous book,” Guardian correspondent Kira Cochrane begins. “When she started her second novel, the Man Booker longlisted The Luminaries, she expected it to be about the same length as her first, The Rehearsal. That was published when she was 22, an extraordinary novel of ordinary proportions, a 300-page dissection of a teacher’s relationship with his teenage student – which also explored theories of performance, gender and metaphor. It was greeted with huge acclaim, and strong anticipation of what the prodigious New Zealander might do next.
“The 832 pages [of The Luminaries set in mid-1860s Hokitika] seethe with forged signatures, lost trunks, misfired bullets and opium.
“Catton became one of the youngest people ever longlisted for the Man Booker, and is being talked of as favourite to win. She feels ‘excited and nauseous’ about the nomination, she says, and is finding the experience weirdly exposing. ‘It’s the scrutiny of me that I don’t like. It’s wonderful, actually, having scrutiny of the work, especially coming from New Zealand, where there’s no reviewing culture at all, so London just seems like paradise.’ The problem is that ‘people expect you to have answers for things.’
“It’s been suggested The Luminaries might be the Great New Zealand Novel, an idea that makes her uncomfortable. ‘I think anybody who sets out trying to do a great anything … ‘ she pauses. ‘I would be very suspicious of that person.’”
Catton was born in Ontario, Canada. She moved to New Zealand when she was six.